Bangor EcoHomes to introduce concept of net-zero-energy housing

Posted March 20, 2013, at 9:16 a.m.

By Brian Swartz

Weekly Staff Editor

Construction will start later this spring on the first Bangor EcoHome, a concept that will introduce net-zero-energy houses to Bangor.

Bob and Suzanne Kelly of House Revivers and Kelly Realty Management plan to construct the model house on the former New Franklin Laundry site between Fern and Pearl streets. After acquiring the property several years ago, the Kellys envisioned converting the large commercial building to 15 condominiums, but “the downturn in the real estate market put a stop to that,” Bob said.

The Kellys have rehabilitated several historic Bangor properties over the years. They realized that the New Franklin Laundry property offered greater potential as six house lots: four on Fern Street and two on Pearl Street.

Rather than construct standard wood-framed houses on the house lots, the Kellys decided to build net-zero energy houses that would feature building techniques and systems seldom used in central Maine. The houses will be called Bangor EcoHomes.

According to Bob Kelly, a net-zero-energy house “produces as much energy as it uses.”

“The house must be tight, really well insulated,” said David Kelly, the Kellys’ son and project manager for Bangor EcoHomes.

The net-zero-energy houses envisioned by the Kellys would feature energy-efficient appliances, doors and windows, and lighting systems. The exterior walls “might be a foot thick,” David said. Roof-mounted solar photovoltaic systems would heat household water and produce electricity. Perhaps fired by natural gas, an on-demand back-up system would heat the water when sufficient sunlight is unavailable.

“There are very few examples of really energy-efficient homes in the area,” David said. Such homes are popular in Europe, where higher energy costs have led to the development of new passive energy technology.

Rather than sit atop a full basement, a Bangor Ecohome might cover “a frost-protected shallow foundation,” also called “an Alaskan slab,” David said.

The well-insulated concrete slab would provide a “thermal mass” that would absorb heat from sunlight pouring through the house’s south-facing windows, Bob Kelly said. Then the slab would slowly release its heat at night to help warm the interior rooms.

“I like to think of it as a heat battery,” he said.

A Bangor Ecohome will be heated with European-style electric heaters, one per room, that “will eliminate the need for a traditional heating system” and the basement in which to place it, David said. A heat pump can provide summertime air conditioning.

The house lots would incorporate “ecological site planning,” a concept that David Kelly described as “my passion.”

“It involves how the whole site is laid out,” he said. Appropriate plants and trees can provide shade in summer and windbreaks in winter and reduce the need for yard work.

Each house lot will be 6,500 square feet or larger in size, providing room for a single-family house and perhaps a garage, which would be placed on the north side to act as a windbreak and to let the house take maximum advantage of the Maine sun.

The Kellys envision offering “a couple of different models,” with each house 1,000-1,500 square feet in size, Bob said. “They don’t feel small when you’re inside them.”

“An open floor plan,” especially in south-facing living areas, “can make a house feel larger,” David explained.

“We’re going to try to make them as affordable as possible,” David said. Prices should run from $200,000 to $250,000; with the energy efficiencies inherent in each house, “in the long run, you’re going to have savings” in reduced energy costs, he said.

He stressed that the Bangor EcoHomes “are really adaptable on the inside. Our real desire would be to custom build as much of each house as we can.”

“Some people might want to stress the kitchen, for example,” Bob said.

He believes that the net-zero-energy homes and their location will appeal to people seeking to live in Bangor rather than in the country. “It’s a great neighborhood for retiring couples, for young couples starting a family,” Bob said.

The Kellys will build a model home later this spring “so people can see what we’re talking about in terms of design and technology,” he said.

To make way for the house lots, the Kellys hired Thornton Construction of Milford to demolish the laundry last year. “They took about 1½ days to knock it down,” David recalled.

“We tried to salvage as much of the building as possible,” he said. “There are some great bricks in there.” He estimated that construction workers salvaged “9,000 to 10,000 [bricks] or so” and “saved some timbers.”

The remaining bricks and concrete “will go for crush, for fill,” David said.

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